By Dr. Greg Eckel
Optimum health requires consistent, adequate and restful sleep. One biological fact appears indisputable: any accrued “sleep debt” will have to be repaid, that is, we’re going to have to catch up with our sleep or we run the risk of compromising our health.
The health benefits of regular, adequate and restful sleep include a stronger immune system, a healthier heart, and unimpaired cognitive function and memory. So, if we know that we need 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night, then why do 50-70 million Americans still suffer from some kind of sleep disorder? And why is insomnia prevalent in 10-20% of the global population?
Many factors can interfere with our ability to “hit the hay:” technology, alcohol, caffeine, depression, stress and anxiety, and/or lack of nutrition. Reducing and managing the varying influences of these factors in our daily lives can lead to better “sleep hygiene” and “fatigue management.”
Insomnia costs US citizens $16 billion a year in extra medical costs. So, what can we do about it now? And where do we start? First, let’s look at some new research demonstrating the toll insomnia is taking on our health.
The study directly showed that the greater the self-reported number of three particular symptoms of insomnia, that is, difficulty in falling to sleep, difficulty in maintaining sleep, and non-restorative sleep, the greater the risk of heart failure. A 17% increased chance of developing heart failure was associated with having one symptom, while a 92% increased chance was associated with having two symptoms. And having all three symptoms nearly tripled the likelihood of heart failure!
Evaluating the symptoms of insomnia may play a large role in cardiovascular prevention. Chronic insomnia can lead to increased blood pressure and increased heart rate, which are two known risk factors in heart failure. In other words, nipping insomnia in the bud could make it significantly less likely for developing heart failure down the road.
Insomnia is multifactorial. Hormone balance plays a significant role: no natural or pharmaceutical agent will be strong enough to counteract your own cortisol, a stress hormone that your body produces. Reducing stress is key to healthy sleep patterns.
Getting technology out of your bedroom is imperative. Electronic devices with back lit screens have a detrimental influence on your melatonin release and can significantly impact your sleep.
Other sleep hygiene tips: don’t eat too close to bed time. Eat large meals at least four hours before bedtime. Alcohol is detrimental for getting a restful night’s sleep. People who drink a glass of their favorite alcoholic beverage do not sleep through the night for a few reasons. Alcohol is a diuretic which means more trips to the bathroom through the night. Alcohol interrupts the sleep cycle.
Blood sugar dips will wake an individual from sleep. A few nuts (almonds, cashews) before bed will provide a healthy solution. Exercise is a mixed bag: some really enjoy a vigorous workout at night, though most should develop low impact exercise habits before bed like walking, stretching, and meditation activities. Engaging in sex near bedtime releases the potent relaxing hormone oxytocin, which will help sleep.
Waking up consistently at 3 am is a tip off that you have liver-lung block—a Chinese medicine term that responds favorably to acupuncture and herbs.
– Dr Greg Eckel N.D and co- owner of Nature Cures Clinic can be reached through his website naturecuresclinic.com